When The People vs. Larry Flynt writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski were asked by studio executives if they had the legal rights to the story, they confidently answered that they did — thanks to a legal precedent set by Larry Flynt.
Flynt, the Hustler publisher and unlikely First Amendment champion, died Wednesday at the age of 78 of undisclosed causes. He may ultimately be more famous for his Supreme Court case than for the acres of porn he produced.
In 1983, Flynt’s Hustler published a parody ad belittling then-popular televangelist Jerry Falwell. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled the such parody of a public figure was protected speech. (Remarkably, Flynt and Falwell later became friends, as Flynt wrote in this Los Angeles Times piece. No cause of death was released.)
When it came time to pitch their movie about the case, Sony asked Alexander and Karaszewski — hot off the biopic Ed Wood — if they had the legal right to tell Flynt’s story. Alexander told MovieMaker in 2019 that they were originally “very cavalier” about the legal rights, and just wrote the best story they could, without thinking about potential lawsuits.
“And when we pitched it to Sony… they said, well do you need the rights? And they were looking to us as the experts because we’d just done Ed Wood. We said, ‘No, we don’t need the rights because of our third act — our third act which is Flynt vs. Falwell, is about the right to parody a public figure! So Larry Flynt’s victory at the Supreme Court gives us the right to make a movie about Larry Flynt.”
At some point, they still needed Flynt’s permission, however — because the studio wanted to use the Hustler trademark in the movie, and needed Flynt’s permission to use it. So they went off to meet him.
“He ended up being a pussycat,” Alexander said.
You can hear the full story at the 14:45 mark of the MovieMaker podcast:
The People vs. Larry Flynt turned out to be a big success for everyone involved: Woody Harrelson was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Flynt, and Milos Foreman was nominated for Best Director. The 1996 also helped mainstream Larry Flynt, and make him as well known for his fights for freedom of speech as he was for magazines.
And Alexander and Karaszewski continued their long run as the kings of biopics, going on to tell stories about Andy Kaufman (Man on the Moon), O.J. Simpson (The People vs. O.J. Simpson), and Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite Is My Name), among many others.
You can hear them talk about the process of making all of those films on the podcast.